TODAY’S STUDY: NUTS AND BOLTS FOR 100% NEW ENERGY BY 2050
Estimating Infrastructure Requirements for a Near 100% Renewable Electricity Scenario in 2050
October 2015 (Creara/Leonardo Energy)
Due to increasing environmental concerns, a multitude of studies try to explore what are the best ways to reduce GHG emissions. One of the most effective actions that can be taken is to reduce emissions by increasing the share of Renewable Energy Sources in the electric sector and by increasing the share of electrification in some highly energy-intensive sectors, such as transport and heating.
This will certainly require an extreme transformation of those sectors, and it will require very significant infrastructure expansions. The magnitude of those expansions will probably be enough to have a strong impact in the economy, probably requiring an effort to develop suitable technical solutions and an increase in production capacity in some industrial sectors, all of which require time and careful planning.
It will be therefore extremely beneficial for all the affected agents to have an estimation of the associated infrastructure requirements, to be able to properly assess the impact in their respective industries, so as to be ready if the change takes place.
However, most studies are focused in estimating the reduction of the emissions, and forget to include fundamental details regarding infrastructure expansions, and a detailed description of the methodology that was used. This significantly reduces the usefulness of those reports, and makes checking the validity of the assumptions almost impossible.
A more open and transparent approach to modeling the possible scenarios would be desirable, especially in those cases where the studies have been funded by public institutions. Publicly available methodologies and full datasets will lead to better estimations and error corrections, and would unleash the full potential of those studies.
Since this is not the case at present, this study tries its best to build a vision on possible pathways to a 100% or near 100% RE share electric power sector in Europe regarding infrastructure requirements, based on already available energy roadmaps and other sources of information.
Fifteen scenarios and similar documents have been analysed according to a set of indicators in order to assess both the objective quality of the analysis performed in each one of them, and the usefulness of the data provided for the objectives of this report: to provide some insight on the consequences of reaching 100% RES regarding infrastructure investments.
Two interesting clusters of documents are identified that provide enough information to perform a reasonably detailed analysis. These clusters are built around two main reports:
The European Commission report “Energy Roadmap 2050” 
The Greenpeace “Energy [R]evolution in Europe” report from 2012 
These clusters are used in this report to build two possible pathways to a 100% RES power sector in 2050. These two pathways share a common ground regarding the main macroeconomic and social assumptions, which allows comparisons to be made, but they differ in many other aspects, mainly technical, adding robustness to the analysis and the conclusions.
Both certainly propose an extreme transformation of the power sector that, while feasible, is going to be very difficult to achieve, especially considering the recent 2030 targets set by the EU in November. Given the current situation, probably the target of a 100% RES power sector will have to be delayed beyond 2050.
While being clearly disruptive, the EU scenario tries to make the changes less aggressive to existing infrastructure and industries, such as conventional generation, transport, heat generation, and others. This leads to an under-optimized solution from a technical point of view, but probably to a more likely solution from a political and economic point of view. This means higher levels of infrastructure expansions and higher costs, but probably also higher resilience of the power sector from all points of view.
The Greenpeace scenario (E[r] scenario) tries to rethink all infrastructure and industries from the ground up, leading to a solution where the optimization has probably been pushed as far as possible. This leads to lower investments in infrastructure, but makes the system probably more fragile and prone to unexpected side effects.
Therefore, showing these two scenarios probably shows the limits of what can be done to reach a 100% RES target from a more pragmatic point of view and from a strictly technical point of view.
Regarding the availability of data in the analysed scenarios, it has to be said that all of them showed a significant lack of detail. For example, while all of them showed the expected generation mix, they all failed to provide enough detail on the expected distribution and transmission grid expansions, although it constitutes an important share of the required investments. Some key assumptions are left undefined, such as the expected penetration of Demand Response, for example, which may have a huge effect on the integration of near 100% RES. Moreover, they seem to omit some significant infrastructure expansions, such as 200-300 GW of hydrogen production facilities.
This opacity makes difficult to check the validity of the assumptions and the coherence of the analysis, but it also prevents from building on the existing work to extend the analysis to other areas not covered in the main report.
Therefore, in some areas such as grid expansions, there was no other option but to extrapolate data from elsewhere, to try to rebuild the data from graphical representations or from aggregated sources. This has been made with great care and with transparency in mind, but it is certainly far from ideal.